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Winchester 1866 Saddle Ring Carbine - Newie Seeks Help
March 20, 2017
6:31 pm
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David L.
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Howdy folks, I am a newbie to Winchesters and would like to purchase my first antique Winchester, and so am seeking some advice, pointers, guidance, from other collectors who have experience in the subject matter.  Specifically, I am interested in buying an early Model, 1866 Saddle Ring Carbine, 44 Cal rim fire Henry. 

I've seen a few of these carbines at various price points, and it's proving to be pretty confusing to try and decipher what's good and what's not-so-good as so many of these ancient guns have had alterations, modifications, damages, changes, etc., and the prices are all over the place.  I really would like to spend some decent coin and get the best Yellow Boy that I can, and so can you kind folks help me out with some advice? 

What should I read?  What should I look for as I inspect a potential?  What questions to ask?

Thank you so very much in advance!

Dave

March 21, 2017
2:22 am
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Wow, nothing like swinging for the fence on the first pitch! I'm a newbie myself and can't advise you on the 1866 specifically but will encourage you to spend some time researching Winchesters in general and the 1866 in detail. In high-end Winchesters things aren't always what they seem. Madis' "The Winchester Book" is a good place to start. As you already may have gathered the 1866 is a serious investment and knowing what to look for and what you're looking at could save a pretty good chunk of cash and may even help you see something other collectors miss. According to the Red Book you're looking at spending over $20K for an original 80% First Model Carbine. If a gun at that price point isn't what it seems it will be worth maybe half the asking price.

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March 21, 2017
1:13 pm
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Have to agree with TX here. You're bypassing the training wheels and going for a bigger toy. With that comes bigger issues. For a high ORIGINAL condition example expect to be close to the $20,000 mark or moving past that. If you're uncomfortable there stop and regroup. Be on the lookout for cleaned and artificially aged receivers, replaced stocks, barrels etc. If possible get a guarantee in writing with an inspection. The group here has always been willing to help publicly and privately. Good luck.

March 21, 2017
2:50 pm
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David L.
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Thanks TXGunNut and nanzca, for your thoughts!  

I'm typically a "go big or go home" kind of a person, and at the same time pretty cautious.  So while I'm not opposed to spending good coin for a good gun, I want to make sure I'm getting what I'm paying for. 

The question is, "who to trust" and I've always known that the answer is that I need to trust myself, learn up, do my homework, ask a lot of questions, and get as much feedback from folks like you, then pull the trigger. 

My first stop was here, because many folks here already know which books I need to get, and have already "gone through the fire" and know where the pitfalls are. 

The kind of Yellow Boy I'd buy will not have high original finish like 80% mentioned above, but maybe some original finish in protected areas, but importantly, I want something that's un-messed with, all original parts that were there when the gun was first made, no replacements (unless very minor), no refinishing of stocks, no artificial aging, etc. 

And so any observations that folks can contribute, would be MOST welcome and really helpful to me! 

Thanks so much,

Dave

March 21, 2017
5:09 pm
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David L. said 

The kind of Yellow Boy I'd buy will not have high original finish like 80% mentioned above, but maybe some original finish in protected areas, but importantly, I want something that's un-messed with, all original parts that were there when the gun was first made, no replacements (unless very minor), no refinishing of stocks, no artificial aging, etc. 

And so any observations that folks can contribute, would be MOST welcome and really helpful to me! 

Thanks so much,

Dave  

Dave,

You are now in the $7,500 - $10K range.  Your best bet for finding a nice clean M1866 is to travel out to Cody WY of the annual WACA show this coming July.  At a typical show, there will be at least a few dozen nice examples for sale.

Bert

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March 21, 2017
6:49 pm
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Before you buy, either take a bunch of real good pictures and post them here or find a good person to look at it that knows his stuff. You will find out that the 66 collector community is very small so you are not the fist person to look at a specific gun, other will already know the gun your interested in.

Bob

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March 21, 2017
7:23 pm
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David L.
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Hi Bob,

That's a great suggestion.  Merz currently has a '66 SRC in stock - I can try to grab those photos and put them here.  His website says:

W1150 WINCHESTER 1866 SRC

Item # W1150

Cal 44 RF. Orig sights. Crisp tight action. Nice bore. Bbl and mag tube have turned a clean plum/brown color with traces of blue and good markings. Wood has correct brass rifle style buttplate and a considerable amount of varnish remains. Just a few minor dings. Receiver is untouched and has turned a dark butterscotch color. Sharp corners. A good looking gun complete with orig saddle ring.

But my issue with such dealer descriptions is, what does having a "nice bore" mean?   What does "traces of blue" mean?  What does "good markings" mean?  What does "considerable amount of varnish" mean?  Is that a later varnish, or original varnish?  What does "a few minor dings" mean?  And on, and on.

It's like someone asking "what is it like to vacation in Paris" and Iyou respond:  "Paris has a nice sky"  and "good hotels" and "considerable number of museums"....

Dave

March 21, 2017
8:34 pm
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If I were you...

You have learn to swim somewhere.

Having said that...I would NOT (I repeat NOT) start out with a Winchester 1866, if you have not collected Winchesters before. If you are asking what "traces of blue" means, you still have a LOT to learn.  You NEED to attend MANY shows. Learn what an original finish looks like. Learn what a reblue looks like. Start to get a feel as to what "could" be a refinish, although not obvious. Start to question why there might be a dichotomy between the metal and wood finish of a Winchester. Is it because the wood was refinished and metal parts were not, or vice versa. Get an idea as to what appropriate barrel markings are, appropriate sights, etc. What often is too good to be true is just that. Also, learn when a skilled craftsman might have refinished a gun, such as Turnbull. These often look better than when new, but these still are refinished, no matter which way you slice it.

When you have asked LOTS of questions and have nothing short of mastered what I state above, and a whole lot more, you just "might" be ready to purchase your first antique Winchester. Maybe you can seek guidance from members of this forum who might be in attendance at the show you might purchase a Winchester at. Then, once you purchase said Winchester, you might want to post photographs of your new Winchester and ask "how did I do?" And, I might add, that first purchase should NOT be an 1866. Start with an 1892, 1894, or 1873. They are much more common and affordable. If you make an egregious error with your first purchase, the damage will likely be not nearly as significant.

There are some really good folks in the gun-collecting community. Likewise, there are some who will knowingly sell a completely refinished Winchester as 100% factory original and take your money without the blink of an eye!

March 21, 2017
8:59 pm
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David L.
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Hi mrcvs, thanks for your thoughts, really appreciate it!  I would completely agree that there are some really good folks in the collecting community and so I'm trying to find some!

When I was asking the question, what does having a "nice bore" mean, I was just commenting that it's impossible to tell the condition of a bore from a seller's description if he says the bore is "nice"...   In other words, what does "nice" mean anyway? 

My wife is "nice" but does that mean that you're going to think she's pretty?  Maybe, maybe not...  That's what I mean.  

Instead, I would have found it more useful to have the dealer write, "bright, shiny bore with just a few scattered pits." 

Similarly, when the dealer says, "some blue" what does that mean?  I would find it more useful if he says "10% original blue on barrel, and 20% original blue on magazine tube" etc.  

I've been collecting antique guns for many years, but am only starting out with Winchesters, and so am looking to find some specific advice on the 1866 Winchesters.  For example, you could say (and I don't know it to be true, but just making this up), "1866 Winchesters have been used for so many years, and shot so many thousands of times, and so the bores you're likely to encounter will typically be fairly worn out and don't worry about it too much."

Thanks!

Dave

March 21, 2017
10:49 pm
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Dave,

I looked at the one on Leroy's site and it is a good carbine. I See nothing wrong with it except for a barrel band backwards.

Being a serious 73, 76, 86 or 94 collector will not give you a leg up in buying your first 66 besides getting over your shyness of counting large amounts of cash in public. The 66 has many more details and odd features that can snafu you in the purchase  which you will not learn from the other levers. With the other lever guns its all about knowing original finish but the 66 is brass i.e. gun metal and you seldom have much of any blue on the barrel.  So it doesn't really matter at what point you start collecting them. You do need to learn all about them to know the subtleties of each era of the 66 so you don't buy a parts gun.

Bob

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March 22, 2017
12:45 am
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Everyone has given some good advice, gut I'm  going to hit you with something else to consider.  This is my own opinion, so take it for what it's  worth.  I would be very reluctant to buy any gun at an on-line action site.  You really need to take the time to go to a few real good gun shows and hold some of these guns in your hot little hands.  The Colorado  Gun Collectors show is coming up in May.  There will be a ton of Winchester's in all models and calibers, including 66's.  Condition will be all over the place.  Then you have the Cody  show in July, which is also a top-of-the-line show. Don't  be in a hurry!

March 22, 2017
2:15 pm
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David L.
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Thanks for everyone’s advice! I haven’t collected any lever guns, and so don’t really have any experience with them.  I have a lot of experience with flintlocks and percussion guns such as Colts and Remingtons, etc.  I typically do like to just “dive in” and so don’t have any hesitation going after an early 1866 Winchester.  You know what they say, “no guts no glory”…  But on the other hand, I want to try and gather as much information as I can before I pull the trigger.  

So I am still full of questions. I guess if you came to me and said “Dave I don’t know much about Colts and would like to buy an 1851 Navy with no finish, but the best gun that I can” I would have lots of advice for you.  I know this is not a forum for Colts, but just as an example, here's the beginning of what I would tell you: 

* Make sure all the serial numbers match on all the parts.  Often, especially with Martial guns, the soldiers replaced or swapped parts intentionally or by mistake (when cleaning) and so you may find a Navy with mismatched parts.  That's not optimal and will render a piece somewhat less collectible (should also be less expensive).  Full serial numbers (or partial) are found on barrel housing, frame, trigger guard, butt, cylinder, cylinder pin, and wedge.  If the wedge has no number, that's not as bad as many wedges were lost and replaced.  If other parts like cylinder mismatched, not great.  Watch also for renumbered parts and if any uncertainty, ask for advice.  

* Make sure grips are original. Civilian grips were varnished, and Martial grips were not.  Martial grips should have inspector cartouches on both left and right (but sometimes only one side).  Civilian grips will not be inspected.  Sometimes, if you can take off the grip, you can see a serial number inked into the center channel.  That inked serial number should match to the serial number of the gun.  If it doesn't, the grip has been replaced.  That channel can also be very dark so you won't be able to see any number.  The seller may not always want to take off the grip for you, and if that's the case, just run your thumb along the top and underside of the grip and it should be extremely close fit of wood to metal and really smooth going, that's because each grip was matched to each gun by the gunsmith.  If the fit isn't great you may want to pass. 

And on, and on, so you see, I could write you ten to fifteen bullets like the ones above and send you on your way, and your chances of not getting burned would be greatly enhanced. I would actually enjoy writing this.  That's the type of advice I'm seeking.  If anyone can do that on this forum, it would be greatly appreciated! 

Dave

March 23, 2017
3:52 am
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I like the "go big or go home" approach but my approach to collecting Winchesters is different. I want to learn all I can about the guns and I feel the best way to do that is to own and shoot as many different types as I can afford. I don't have an unlimited budget so I'll be able to experience many more Winchesters if I don't buy an 1866 or a minty 1886 or 1876. I'll probably acquire a high-end Winchester or two someday but I'll always have room in my safe and a special place in my heart for a gun that's been there, done that and won't get hurt if we do it again.

I think the guns you're looking for may represent the best investment opportunities but as mentioned in the above posts it takes awhile to learn what to look for and avoid, I'm certain the same is true with Colts. I've jumped in there and bought a few Winchesters without knowing fully what I was doing but I've been lucky for the most part. I've made a few mistakes but didn't lose much and I learned from my mistakes. One mistake on a high end gun can easily cost thousands of dollars, that would seriously impact the enjoyment I get from this hobby.

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March 23, 2017
4:39 am
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David L.
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For sure TXGunNut, I'd agree.  And so to send me on my way with some information, what specific guidance would you offer on how to pick a good 1866?  What specific guidance would other folks on this Winchester forum have?  

I figure of all places on the Internet, the Winchester Collector's Forum is the best place for such good guidance.  I welcome all thoughts!

Thanks in advance,

Dave

March 24, 2017
1:11 am
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I'd be the last to give you dependable specific guidance on the Henry or the 1866. I'm only casually interested in either rifle, last one I had a chance to buy was very likely bogus but it sold at an "estate" auction for over $7000, if it was as represented I think it should have brought three times that amount. George Madis discusses the Henry and the 1866 at length in the early chapters of The Winchester Book. The book has been out of print for some time but good copies can be found on Amazon or possibly other sites linked thru the WACA home page. This book is a bit pricey but it helped me recognize an oddball gun that a knowledgeable retailer missed; paid for itself before I even finished reading. Larry Shennum and Bert Hartman wrote The Red Book of Winchester Values, also available thru the WACA home page or directly from Bert. I consider these two books to be the cornerstones of my small, but growing, Winchester reference library. And no, I don't get a dime for recommending either book. There are other books available from the home page and of course on Amazon.

As you've likely discovered we have some very knowledgeable collectors on this site and I want to make it very clear that I'm NOT one of them. I've dabbled a bit for years but have only started getting serious in the past few years.

Good luck and welcome!

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Smokeless powder is a passing fad! -Steve Garbe
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March 24, 2017
1:56 am
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Dave L.
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Thanks TXGUnNut, I hear ya, thanks, and have already ordered the books recommended.  I'm still holding out for some concrete, practical advice, that I can take with me as I take a look at some potential 1866 levers.  There's not much I can do with advice along the lines of, "don't start with an 1866" or "attend many shows" or "inspect lots of guns" or "ask lots of questions."  I go to shows all the time and I'm very knowledgeable in many areas, just not on Winchesters.  At show, as you can expect and have probably experienced yourself, the folks selling guns are not quite willing to volunteer information about what they are selling.  In other words, they are there to make a sale, not there to tell you what's been altered on their gun.  And as we know, there's potentially much wrong with these guns.  They've been used, sometimes abused, for 150 years.  They've seen the Wild West and probably been taken down to Central or South America, then back up here, really up and down continents.  They've seen a lot.  As you say, I'm sure there are some very knowledgeable collectors on this site, that's why I'm here cap in hand, but they haven't volunteered some concrete advice just yet.  I'm hoping they will.  

March 26, 2017
8:22 pm
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Dave,

I'm no expert on the 66's but I have had a couple and know people that are into them. These are my observations. You don't find many that haven't been taken apart at some time in the past so you will see buggered screws which is normal and the wood fit is not always perfect because of that. The one thing you want is the assemble numbers to match just like the Colts. The numbers will be on the left side of the lower tang, the top of the wood and the inside of the butt plate. The finish of the brass is suppose to be a butterscotch color and pattern and when you see one that hasn't had much use the corners of the metal are well defined. As they got used more the brass wore and the corners rounded and you lost some of the butterscotch but over time the butterscotch would come back.  What you don't want is a gun that has been cleaned or buffed and artificially aged. When they artificially age brass they can get the color close but they can't get the pattern to it. Here is one off of Merz's site that has a nice pattern to the brass, merzantiques.com

The barrel address on them was stamped light from the factory so seeing a thin address is not always a sight the barrel has been refinished. Rifling on the early guns does not always follow the normal pattern of 5 land to 6 land rifling on later guns. There was a lot of experimentation in rifling on the early ones to get more accuracy so you can find 6 land on a early gun. Watch for bulged barrels especially on the carbines.  The bluing is darker on the 66's just like the early 73's and when you find a gun with lots of blue expect to pay for it.

Bob

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March 27, 2017
1:29 am
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I know this may be a minor issue to some, but I am going to point this out again... Winchester never used "brass" for the Henry Repeating Rifle, the Model 1866, the Model 1873, or the Model 1876. Instead, it was "gunmetal", a.k.a. Bronze.

Bert

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March 27, 2017
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1873man said
Dave,

I looked at the one on Leroy's site and it is a good carbine. I See nothing wrong with it except for a barrel band backwards.

Being a serious 73, 76, 86 or 94 collector will not give you a leg up in buying your first 66 besides getting over your shyness of counting large amounts of cash in public. The 66 has many more details and odd features that can snafu you in the purchase  which you will not learn from the other levers. With the other lever guns its all about knowing original finish but the 66 is brass i.e. gun metal and you seldom have much of any blue on the barrel.  So it doesn't really matter at what point you start collecting them. You do need to learn all about them to know the subtleties of each era of the 66 so you don't buy a parts gun.

Bob  

Bert,

If you look at my earlier post you would of seen I did clarify that but I like to refer to it as brass since that is what most people call it.

Bob

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March 27, 2017
8:55 pm
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David L.
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Thanks very much Bob, I appreciate the detail and suggestions!

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